From head coaches to MVP players such as Patrick Mahomes to many front-office personnel, the NFL isn’t known for hiring anyone who is either gay or female in its ranks. Having a female referee is a fairly recent development. As a men’s sporting league, a few female coaches are starting to come to the forefront, but men in charge still dominate the league. The same goes for members of the LGBTQ community, who often aren’t outed until after they are done with the league. Katie Sowers is an exception to both these rules, and she recently revealed why the Super Bowl-bound 49ers brought her in and how she wants to be remembered.
Who is Katie Sowers?
Sowers is no stranger to professional football. Although women’s football might not be as popular as the NFL, Sowers spent eight years playing in the Women’s Football Alliance. In a sport where women have never played professionally, that theoretically should put her ahead of the curve. She started as an intern with the Atlanta Falcons, but when current 49ers Kyle Shanahan moved to his current job, he was so impressed that he took her along for the ride.
While naysayers might think of women like Sowers as hires that meant for diversity, Sowers dismissed that notion in a commercial for the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 that highlighted her rare opportunity.
“I’m not here to be the token female. I’m here to help us win,” Sowers says with confidence in the commercial. It is, perhaps, that confidence that has guided her to continue breaking barriers in the NFL.
But Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers didn’t put her on the coaching staff only for optics. They did it because she knows football and brings authenticity to her position.
“If as coaches and teachers, if people don’t believe you, if they don’t trust you, if they don’t feel like you’re authentic, you’re not going to have any buy in,” Sowers told The Guardian.
Female coaches in the NFL
According to ESPN, there were 10 female coaches in the NFL during 2019. Seven of these women were hired as interns, a tactic that many accused of being a ploy to fake diversity when so few were hired full-time. Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coach Bruce Arians heard these complaints from his wife and responded.
“I said, ‘Oh, babe. We don’t need more internships,’ Arians said. ‘Like, ‘Oh, yeah, come on, little lady. Hang with us for a year, and then we’re going to let you go,’ Christine said. ‘No, find somebody that’s qualified to coach, and hire them.’”
Arians responded by bringing in not only defensive line coach Lori Locust but conditioning coach Maral Javadifar. The Buccaneers became the first team in NFL history to have two female coaches with this move. The other seven female assistants in the NFL besides these two and Katie Sowers are interns, showing that the league has a long way to go before full-time female coaches become the norm for the league.
Football is viewed by many as a man’s game, and the question has been raised in every sport about whether or not men would respond well to female coaches. In Tampa and San Francisco, they have the answer to that question, but Sowers has other hurdles to work through, too.
Katie Sowers and other LGBTQ people in the NFL
Sowers already had to clear hurdles in the male-dominated NFL, but she also had to get through another hurdle when she came out of the closet shortly after joining the team. The NFL has a complicated history regarding the inclusion of open members of the LGBTQ community. In 2014, Michael Sam made history as the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, but he never saw a minute of NFL action.
Sowers made sure that this would not happen by showing that she was able to climb the ladder and make it based on her merit. Allegations of her place in the league will always be disputed, but these can be quickly disproven by a look at her resume.
As the Super Bowl kicks off, Katie Sowers might not be on the field, but there may not be a more historic moment in the game than her presence on the sideline when she becomes both the first woman and the first open member of the LGBTQ community to coach in the game.